Monday, November 16, 2015

Opinion: NASCAR Obligated to Finish Race for Fans, Drivers

NASCAR's penultimate race of the 2015 season ended after just 219 of 312 scheduled laps due to rain, but the sanctioning body had an obligation to race to the scheduled distance with so much on the line.

Following Sunday's Quicken Loans 500 from Phoenix International Raceway, four drivers were eliminated from the Chase for the Sprint Cup in the final cut of this year's Chase.  Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch and Joey Logano went to Phoenix needing a victory, but NASCAR took that away from those four drivers.
Photo courtesy Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Rain delayed the start of the race by 6.5 hours.  The race started around 9:00 PM EST, instead of the scheduled green flag time of 2:45 PM EST.  After racing for close to 2.5 hours, the rain came again and the drivers were brought down pit road under the red flag.  The red flag lasted less than 15 minutes before Dale Earnhardt Jr. was declared the winner and the field for the Chase finale was set.

NASCAR owed it to the fans and drivers to finish the race at its scheduled distance.  NASCAR has already finished races later than 11:30 this season.  The July Daytona race finished well after 3:00 AM EST following numerous red flags that stretched the normal four hour race window into an over 12-hour affair.

This year's Chase has already been mired by controversy.  At Talladega, Kevin Harvick made contact with Trevor Bayne, causing the Big One to strike on the one and only green-white-checkered finish.  Harvick's engine had been blowing up, and the accident allowed him to move on to the next round of the Chase, while Earnhardt was elminated by a few feet when the caution came out.  Earnhardt's win on Sunday did nothing to help him win a championship, while Harvick's second-place finish allowed him to move on to the finale at Homestead.

Then at Martinsville, Logano was leading the race when Matt Kenseth, whom Logano had spun while racing for the lead at Kansas two weeks prior, took out the leader, ruining Logano's Chase chances.  Kenseth was suspended for the Texas and Phoenix races, but Logano was eliminated following the Phoenix race.

Logano finished third at Phoenix, and was poised to make a run for the victory when the race went back green.  But NASCAR called the race after losing the track at a racetrack with no curfew or noise ordinance, dashing his hopes of a comeback.

NASCAR also owed it to the fans who had stuck with the race all day in person and at home.  The fight for the final Chase spot was just heating up when the rain came.  Edwards was battling with Martin Truex Jr. for the final Chase spot, but a Logano victory would have knocked them both out of the Chase.  Exciting stuff, if it had happened.

I think it's time NASCAR takes a good look at the way the sport is headed.  With falling TV ratings  in every race of the Chase, many fans are tuning out (even though the fat paycheck NASCAR gets from FOX and NBC gives them millions of reasons to look the other way).  And with NASCAR's inconsistent calls on the track, it's no wonder.

NASCAR let the drivers and fans down when they called the race on Sunday, cutting off an exciting finish that was shaping up, a product of the championship format they had created.

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